Often I meet or read about a fellow breeder that is just flat doing it right. My friend Allen Davis in Wyoming is one of those guys. His bird dogs get to see more wild birds in a single season than most will see in a lifetime. The secret, he takes his bird dogs hunting every chance he gets. The results? He has some amazing bird dogs with intelligence and wild-bird prowess to spare. He hunts his dogs annually on several species across several western states. And when hunting season ends, he competes in a few field trials to see how his dogs stack up. Yep, his bird dogs (Setters and Brittanys) have won their share of ribbons too. Take a look at his dogs at Table Mountain Kennels website. He has some nice hunting photos on his website and sometimes has puppies for sale.
Travis has been packing around a bb gun with me for nearly 2 years. He has been learning about gun safety and handling a gun responsibly. He is getting better each outing and finally today we broke out the 28 gauge shotgun and he got to shoot his first pheasant. I am excited for him to spend time with me outdoors and hope this is the first of many hunting trips together.
Had a good day training with a friend of mine who is working with a 6 month old german shorthair puppy. We planted several hens in some cover at the pheasant farm and just let the dogs work game. I was working with my Lizzy dog, a 7 month old female american brittany from Blueridge Brittany Kennels in Texas. Lizzy did a great job with the challenging cover (thick cat tails) in a marshy area. She dove right into the cover in true britt fashion and found a few birds. When the situations were just right we shot a couple of birds over her. We were careful of the distance between her and the gun fire. And we made sure she was intent on the bird before firing. She marked both birds very nicely and with a little encouragement retrieved them both to hand. The two dogs ended up busting a couple of rooster pheasants as well in some heavy cover.
Buster has been carrying the load at the pheasant farm this past month as Annie has been out of service while caring for her litter of brittany puppies. The puppies started eating solid foods a week ago and I thought Annie could use a break for a few hours. This was Annie and Buster’s first time hunting together as a team and I was real pleased with the duo. Sometimes 2 dogs just don’t work well together and you can’t fix it. Other times two dogs can seem like they read each others minds and truly compliment the other. We had a great pheasant hunt even if it was a bit cold and snowy, the dogs did well and our clients got 10 out of 12 birds released. It was fun working the ditch banks on these large alfalfa fields and the birds were holding good with the snow cover. All in all it was a fun day but the pups were glad to see Annie when we got back.
When learning to train a hunting dog your’e bound to make a few mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes can be easily fixed while others are costly and have a ripple effect. Jake was one of my first hunting dogs and we brought him home at 7 1/2 weeks old. He was very well socialized and had good bird and gun introduction early on. Jake had a great nose and was pointing birds solid at 6 months. When he was just about a year old I shot my first pheasant over him and things were going extremely well. I was proud of Jake and invited a few friends to come see his pointing dog skills.
Looking back it is easy for me to see that I made a mistake, but at the time I was baffled. It is a risky proposition to take a young dog hunting with 3-4 hunters and shoot 20 or so pheasants. I’m pretty sure he was not shot or peppered but I think there were just too many guns going off each time a bird was flushed. He looked great and held his points well for the first bird or two and then he started bumping birds. By the end of the hunt he was blinking birds and cowering at every gunshot. At the time I thought he just had a bad day and was making young dog mistakes. But, it was a lot worse than that.
The next time I took him out alone and planted a couple of birds, he took one look at the shotgun and headed back to the ATV before a shot was even fired. He was still interested in birds and I tried a hundred ways to coax him through it, but he was just plain done hunting. We struggled with it for a while because he was our best behaved dog and the kids liked him a lot. But, I didn’t see the point in keeping him around knowing that he would be left in the kennel every time we went out hunting with the other dogs. Jake deserved better.
Now I know there are some real pros out there that could have pulled Jake through it. But, over a year or so of trying I had no success and I was ready to move on. I ended up contacting a shorthair rescue in Arizona that was able to find Jake a happy home with an active family. We were sad to see him go but we knew he would be better of as a beloved pet than the lone dog left in the kennel. I learned some important lessons while raising and training Jake those three years. Most importantly that you can’t get in hurry with dog training. If your dog is struggling or showing signs of noise sensitivity – slow down, back up a step or even start again from the beginning. It’s never good to take a young dog hunting with a big crowd. I think one gun is plenty for the first year or so of real hunting. I’d be curious to hear of others experiences with gun shy dogs.
This week I guided three days at the pheasant hunting preserve. The birds get a bit silly this time of year and the roosters are running like crazy. The skittish birds and the sparse cover can make for some very challenging pheasant hunting conditions. Annie did well but I decided to take the owners seasoned shorthair pepper to help us out. Pepper has a unique talent that he has developed over 6-7 years of being a guide dog at the pheasant farm. When another dog goes on point, pepper circles around the bird to block their escape. This comes in quite handy when the roosters are running on us.
This is a picture taken after the successful late season pheasant hunt. Pepper’s blocking skills were much appreciated by the clients who ended up taking home a good pile of pheasants (mostly roosters). Another fun thing was a successful water retrieve by Annie when a bird was shot and dropped into the river. She is great with water retrieves as long as she marks the bird down. She hesitates a little still with blind water retrieves. We will work on this during the spring and summer training sessions.
I tried to get some video of Pepper demonstrating his unique skill, but I was a little late getting the camera out. The one thing I don’t like is that Annie won’t fight for a retrieve with a competitive dog. She will just let the other dog have it if they get to the bird at the same time. Sometimes I like to work Annie alone so she can do it all. Pepper is not one to share any of the retrieving duties. With all of our birds sold at the pheasant farm we are winding down for a few months until we get 5,000 day-old pheasant chicks in May and start the whole process over again.
This is a client dog making a pretty nice water retrieve at the pheasant hunting preserve today. The property has a river running through it and many times the birds flush across the river and sometimes when shot, drop in or on the other side of the river. Shorthairs are usually quite good at water retrieves but as quick as Sadie was to get across to the downed rooster, it took a little coaxing to get her to come back. The water was running pretty swift and very cold with the winter run-off. My Brittany dog Annie was the first one across the river but she didn’t mark the bird and had trouble locating and returned empty handed.
One of my favorite things about training dogs is sharing with others, especially young people. I invited a couple of friends the other day to come and watch my dogs work and to be my shooters. My neighbor and avid hunter John C. (left) with his son had a fun time chasing pheasants while I worked with Annie on being more steady on point. My other friend Aaron came up from SG with his son to see the cover and tour the pheasant hunting preserve where I work as a guide. Aaron raises and trains german shorthairs and is the breeder of the dog Ace that I am currently working with.
Chris Colt of cove mountain kennels was out working with his new english pointer “Max”. It was his first time to watch Max working around birds and he was anxious to see where to start the training. Max seemed to have plenty of bird drive and not much problem with guns and noise sensitivity. It was fun to be the bird man for Chris and to watch him work and train the dogs from his kennel. Chris has been looking for a new pointing dog since he lost his wirehair Aika this past year to old age. This new english pointer just might be the ticket. Watch the video of Max’s first pheasant on YouTube.
Ace did well and had a fabulous back with Annie pointing a covey of wild valley quail that live on the property. We are trying to grow the quail population on the pheasant farm as they are a nice addition to the game birds. We use bobwhite quail for training but the valley quail are much more beautiful. I wish I could have got a picture of it but I was proud of Annie and Ace for their solid bird work.
This is a group of hunters I guided a few weeks ago at Rooster Valley Pheasant Preserve. The german shorthair “Bella” is owned by Will Fonte of Las Vegas and is a real nice dog. She has a sweet temperment and she would hunt all day if we let her. Ceasar is the hunter in the video clip (Will’s Brother). We had a fun day chasing roosters around at the pheasant farm. One of the most enjoyable things for me has been meeting new people and making new friends while working as a pheasant hunting guide. Sometimes the clients have their own dogs, in which case I will just pack birds and shoot pictures for them with my Nikon D50. Most of the time I get to work my own dogs which has been a great experience for Abby and Annie.